Protection

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Authors: Elise de Sallier
clenched. “A part of me wishes he had, so I could beat him senseless
     for what he put Lisa and her father through. But since that’s not an option, I’ll
     have to be content with making sure she is never put at risk again.”
    “Speaking of risk, is she still determined to visit a house of mercy?”
    “There’s a misnomer if ever I’ve heard one,” Nathaniel muttered. “I’ve had my man
     look into the various female penitentiaries in the city, and you were right. They’re
     the lastplaces I’d allow Lisa or Rebecca to visit.”
    “I’d heard they were cheerless places, but I didn’t realise the women were harshly
     treated.”
    Nathaniel grimaced. “Not as harshly as they were in their previous lives, but they
     don’t call them ‘penitents’ for nothing. It’s a sordid business, one I would rather
     our ladies knew nothing about.”
    “It’s a little late for that.”
    “True.” Nathaniel rubbed the back of his neck, his guilt never far from the surface.
     If supporting her in this endeavour was part of his penance, he would endure it with as much stoicism as he could muster, but not to her
     detriment. He was determined to keep her safe, even if that meant protecting her from
     her own compassionate nature.
    “She agreed to wait until after we’re officially betrothed to pursue the matter.”
    “Which means your time is up.” Hugh smiled, but Nathaniel was unable to muster one
     in response. The King was supposed to announce his betrothal to Lisa at the ball they
     were to attend that evening, but he had his doubts it would occur. If the sovereign
     reneged on his commitment to honour Lisa’s wishes regarding her choice of spouse,
     then preventing her from visiting a charity home would be the least of his concerns.
    “I wouldn’t worry.” Hugh clapped Nathaniel on the shoulder. “Anneliese seems a stalwart
     sort, not easily influenced by promises of grandeur. If she hasn’t changed her mind
     about wanting to marry you by now, I doubt she’s going to. You’ll end up together
     one way or another.”
    “It’s the ‘other’ I’m worried about.”
    “On the bright side,” Hugh added, his tone droll. “If the worst happens, and the two
     of you are banished from polite society, you could stop fretting about the ton’s expectations and live as you please. From what I’ve observed, I think Anneliese might
     prefer it.”
    “You’ve noticed the change in her demeanour?”
    “It’s difficult to miss. She seems . . .”
    “Reserved? Anxious? A far cry from the effervescent girl who took to being my mistress
     with aplomb?”
    Hugh eyed Nathaniel ruefully. “You have calmed her fears in regards to your expectations for once you are wed?”
    “I’ve tried.” Nathaniel grimaced. “But the more I assure her I have no intention of
     treating her the way I did when she was my mistress, the more she withdraws.”
    Hugh swore, earning a surprised look from both Nathaniel’s father and Sir George.
    “My apologies.” He bowed his head in their directions before turning on his friend,
     his voice low but determined. “For an intelligent, educated fellow, Nate, you can
     be a right idiot.”
    “In what way?”
    “I thought you’d come to your senses and recognised that a lady can be both virtuous
     and appreciate the pleasures of the flesh, those permissible within marriage, at any
     rate.”
    “I have.” Nathaniel shrugged, bewildered by his friend’s outburst.
    “Have you told Anneliese as much? It sounds to me you’ve been so busy informing her
     what you don’t expect of her, you’ve forgotten to assure her what she can expect from you. She probably thinks you want her to conform to society’s traditional
     expectations once you’re wed.”
    Nathaniel scowled. Lisa couldn’t possibly be under such a misapprehension. He was
     shockingly demonstrative towards, holding her hand whenever he got the chance. Then
     there was the kiss they’d shared the night her

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